Civilian hospital in besieged city has run out of supplies, with thousands more still trapped as conflict rages on.
Thousands of Afghan civilians have fled Kunduz city to escape days of fighting between the Taliban and government forces, with dozens arriving daily in Kabul with little more than the clothes on their backs, recounting stories of horror.
The insurgents launched an assault on Kunduz on Monday, triggering intense fighting with Afghan forces backed by NATO and sending frightened residents fleeing to other cities including the capital. Those who arrive in Kabul after a journey in an overcrowded taxi head for the lawn outside parliament, where their children were shivering in the dark late on Thursday after their hasty departure.
Abdullah paid 10,000 afghanis (over $150), a sum equivalent to the monthly salary of a senior police officer, for a taxi to ferry his family to Kabul. He had left Kunduz in September 2015 after a previous attack on the strategic city close to the border with Tajikistan.
Mohammed also arrived with seven relatives. “The situation is terrible. We couldn’t even take clothes. There was a barrage of rockets, shelling,” he said.
Up to 10,000 civilians have fled Kunduz, the U.N. said on Thursday, to escape fighting which was ongoing despite government claims that Afghan forces had retaken the city on Monday night.
The government on Monday said Afghan forces had repelled the assault but Taliban reinforcements had apparently arrived and fighting flared up even in the city center, according to Mohammed, who managed to leave on Wednesday morning. Like the other men around him, he received hourly calls from relatives still in Kunduz who reported continuing rocket attacks in the streets of the city center.
“Kunduz is on fire!” said one young woman in a burqa, Parmin, her voice shaking with indignation. “The Taliban are there destroying and burning everything. There is a barrage of rockets and prices [of food] are rising. It’s total chaos,” she said. “Everyone in town is trying to flee. The Taliban warned: ‘If you leave your home you will be shot.’ They burned the homes of those who refused them shelter.”
A new convoy arrived as the night wore on. On the lawn outside parliament they were welcomed by Kunduz lawmaker Fatima Aziz. Mobile phone in hand, she takes hundreds of calls from her constituents and negotiates a little support from compassionate businessmen to find shelter for the night and some food. “It gets worse and worse every minute,” she said. “The Taliban are taking up positions in every house, every street. People are still trapped there and suffering a food shortage, but there is not enough transportation, even when the people can afford to pay up to 15,000 afghanis, a life’s savings.”
Aziz sought help from the minister for refugees, “but he was in Brussels,” she says, for a conference where international donors pledged $15.2 billion to Afghanistan for the next four years, hoping for peace in exchange. But the country is struggling to manage the flow of displaced people fleeing the proliferation of conflict across the country from north to south and in the east, and the insecurity that results.
A total of more than 1.2 million displaced people, including 270,000 just since the beginning of the year, swell the basic population of major cities including Kabul. The OCHA said on Thursday it was “deeply concerned about large scale displacements as a result of the recent fighting in Kunduz city,” which has been attacked by the Taliban for the second time in a year.
Amnesty International also said “the Afghan government and Taliban forces should urgently facilitate swift and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief into Kunduz, where thousands of civilians are trapped in increasingly dire conditions.” It said the civilian hospital had run out of medical supplies and sustained rocket and gunfire attacks on Wednesday.
The same hospital, then run by Medecins Sans Frontieres, was hit by a U.S. airstrike during the fighting in October last year, killing 42 people.